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Burning Man 2000: Weather, Mr. T, and MSG

Burning Man 2000 is my third Burning Man. My tale of Burning Man 2000 is thankfully not on the same theme as the first two. It is not ONLY about being woefully unprepared.

I was somewhat prepared, this time, it being my third time. This time, I’m ready to be there for a week and have brought such amazing tools as a cooler! For keeping food fresh! No longer eating protein bars and canned things only to struggle with constipation in the horriblest places of Burning Man – the sweatboxes known as port-a-potties.

I also bring Tommy Boom-Boom, again, and by now he has the hang of things and is also slightly more useful.

This time, we bring a commercial shade structure, and some stuff to tie it down with. We use industrial tent stakes as the anchor, which is not correct (must be rebar or those ground screws or something that has a heavier, deeper grip).

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, Burning Man takes this opportunity to stay true to an adage that I will hear some fifteen years after Burning Man 2000:

“Burning Man Is Not Your Mom.” 

In a decidedly unmaternal move, Black Rock City decides to be struck with enormous weather. Not the most severe I’ve ever experienced there, but thunderstorms and intense winds which do a good job of ripping apart our commercial shade structure at the seams. Or rather the metal junctions. It bends the metal such that they won’t junct anymore, leaving us unshaded for most of the week.

Luckily, this is also the year of one of the coolest sets of neighbors I’ve ever experienced at Burning Man, who come with a trailer to sleep and hang out and smoke weed in, a nice shaded area off of that with extra chairs for visitors, and as well as pretty much everything else one could need to not only be comfortable oneself, but to also take care of one’s neighbors. They even brought their own IVs for dehydration.

At time of writing I have no idea whether these people live.

The last I heard there was cancer and a child born in their mid forties . They were a wonderful couple in the medical industry who had both also been in Bosnia together. He told me a story about being sent home for writing “Fuck Bosnia” on the wall when he and his compatriots felt frustrated with the situation one night.

They were laid back Northern Californians who liked to smoke weed, drink, have parties, but all in moderation. There was an edge to them, not punk, but like, I remember her telling me her favorite medical class she ever took involved rebuilding skulls from shattered pieces. She was fascinated with the goo inside us and not at all turned off by any issues with it.

They were the absolute best people you could ever have as neighbors at Burning Man. Knowing that medical professionals were nearby allowed me to relax into the experience a little more.

This is the year that I drank at Burning Man for the first time. Oddly – wine. I haven’t drank much wine since, especially after working crush at a winery, but this was before that, and the one year of my life that I was into that. I remember learning a lesson that I took with me through the rest of my years at Burning Man: a little bit of alcohol sure does take the edge off how difficult it is to be there. 

Many years later a friendly camp called me “The Drunkmaker” for the entire week. Hey, if you got it, share it.

These Burning Man 2000 neighbors will come back to camp with me again, but this year – we are in the honeymoon phase and just delighted to have found each other. She and I spend some time drinking and smoking and giggling.

“I love weed.” one of us will start.

“Wow, I love weed too!” the other continues.

“We should be friends!” we hug.

It is both our commentary on the level of friendships at Burning Man and also 100% sincere at the same time.

We do much of Burning Man 2000 together, even the burn, which compared to my first two years I don’t remember much of.

Probably the wine.

Our neighbors are not the only social contacts that I have at Burning Man and perhaps that is the ultimate lesson that carries me through the rest of my years: gotta have your people. Got to.

One of my best stoner buddies at the time is attending. We went to film school together and he’s really the guy that introduced me to smoking weed on the regular.

He’s not camping with me, which I am slightly slighted by, but on the other hand he will continue on to camp with me for almost a decade after this. Instead he has older friends that have been at him longer to attend. He tells me I’m the catalyst which is good enough for me. 

After a few days I know he must have arrived and look for him. The only thing I have to go on is that there will be a giant, twelve foot tall Mr. T puppet that takes two people to handle sitting in front of his camp.

Thus I spend half a day of my Burning Man 2000 scouring the streets for Mr. T. 

It only takes about half a day to bike all the streets at this point, with considerable distraction along the way, and indeed I am some ⅞ through the city before I see the very obvious Mr. T puppet and run into the shade structure behind it to add my dear stoner friend to my posse.

My stoner friend is making what I would consider a mistake and smoking a ton of weed and mostly sitting at camp. This doesn’t seem as much a problem for him, he’s having fun. He is a natural comedian and entertains anyone who comes along. I take part, but in a limited way. I’ve learned my lesson.

Mr. T isn’t his contribution, it’s one of his campmates. My friend’s contribution is different: he has brought a large industrial tub of MSG, and has fashioned a nice “FREE MSG!” sign out of Sharpie and cardboard which attracts a dismaying number of passersby.

For a little while he’s adding MSG to slices of watermelon, which is maybe an understandable curiosity but when the watermelon runs out people still come into the shade to accept free tablespoons of MSG. I wrinkle my nose at this full on disdain for health.

So when some guy comes running in excitedly one day when we’re all hanging out, he slows his roll just slightly when my friend assumes he’s come for the MSG. 

“No I don’t want any MSG what the fuck. Wait right here!” he says, flustered, and runs out.

“Well okay.” my friend says, shrugging and taking a bong hit like he planned to go anywhere.

Our other friend meanwhile comes out in a light pink tuxedo jacket with black ruffled lining and white gloves which he has also dyed slightly pink. And nothing else. 

There is a term at Burning Man in these days called “shirtcocking” and this is a prime example of it. For some reason it becomes frowned upon.

Currently, it’s def a good look with a pink tuxedo jacket.

Our friend then packs a tray full of toilet paper and wet wipes and mints and goes and stands outside the port-a-potties for an hour playing restroom attendant. I watch him do his thing for a moment, showing people to what he assures them is the best one, opening the door for them, making sure they have everything they need to do the deed.

It’s hilarious, and spontaneous. It is his first time at Burning Man. I am impressed how much he “gets it”. I mull over my own contribution, even my loser stoner friend brought free MSG. I still haven’t found anything to really contribute.

Speaking of contributions, the guy who ran in and out abruptly returns just as abrubtly some forty minutes later, red-faced and panting, with a signed poster of Mr. T. 

“Who brings a signed poster of Mr. T to Burning Man? Why?” my stoner friend says sarcastically.

“Who brings a giant puppet of Mr. T to Burning Man? Why?” the guy retorts.

“This is pretty magical.” I interject. 

And it is, it thrills the makers of the Mr. T puppet. It’s the talk of their camp for days. Mr. T puppet goes out on walks daily and does end up going to the burn, but I don’t see it there.

Back at my own camp I hang out with the neighbors more frequently now that the storm has ripped apart my shade structure. We complain about being particularly far from the port-a-potties. The storm has left the playa very cold at night. Getting dressed and then exiting a warm tent to walk half a mile in the cold to piss in a box kept warm only by human excrement is really unpleasant and messing with our experience.

I note that it is more prevalent for women. Tommy Boom-Boom just pisses in a bottle at night and empties it into the port-a-potties during the day. When I complain that it isn’t fair, he says:

“We should get you a funnel.” 

Little do either of us know how much this sentence will transform my life.

Burning Man 2000 is the last year that I have sex on the open playa. As it grows so does the list of rules. It’s not technically allowed, but everyone looks the other way. And so at dusk Tommy Boom-Boom and I take a blanket out as far as we can comfortably walk and there under the sky and to the wafting sounds of the city we have a sweet, buzzy fuck.

The man burns and it’s time to say goodbye. It’s nice knowing that I’ll see my stoner buddy within days. Much more tearful saying goodbye to the neighbors and good friends. Usually Burning Man friends fizzle after the event.

As did these, but not for many years. And so, right before I drive away, my neighbor hug long and hard and tell each other how much we love weed and vow that we’ll go home and try to make a working model of that pee funnel…

My First Burning Man

My Second Burning Man

My Twenty-First Burning Man


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